People don’t know they are corrupt

News headlines these days are full of cries of graft and corruption. For weeks now we have been hearing about the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice. I didn’t keep tabs on all the details but noted plenty of indignant denunciations by local citizens.

News from the neighboring country is also usually full of this or that government or business person being accused of graft, corruption etc. The president recently  made the comment that perhaps many people do not know that they are corrupt. Although ridiculed by pundits, I actually think he is on to something.

You say, how can you possibly not know you are corrupt? Well, for one thing it seems that most people assume corruption and fraud can only involve enormous amounts of money.  We usually do not consider that things we ourselves do might also qualify.

For example, in  my former residence it is expected that you have to pay unlisted “expediting fees” for government services in addition to what is already posted. Only the crazy  foreigners think this is something aberrant. Teachers and other civil servants are often at the mercy of higher level government officials who can delay promotions, pocketing the extra salary for months or even years. They can decide that everyone’s salary will be docked to support a Quran-chanting contest, or, in the past, to support the official political party in power. The governor has an annual dinner for prominent businessmen in the city at which they are informed what their “contribution” will be for the next year. (Don’t pay it and just watch  how fast your permits won’t be processed!)  The central government can earmark money or a vehicle for a certain orphanage or school  but a local official may just “decide” that it should go to someone completely different. At the village level, livelihood projects such as donated tractors, rice mills, etc which are intended for a community, all too often become the property of the village head or his relatives.

For years a committee was collecting funds to build a mosque and they never seemed to be able to start building (because they kept “borrowing” the money.) After several years the governor got mad at them and asked if he needed to assign a Christian to be the treasurer. But Christians aren’t always exempt either. There are plenty of cases of people “borrowing” church funds or otherwise profiting. I personally know of a committee that went to town to buy plastic chairs for their church and came back with receipts that were inflated by 25%. Guess who pocketed the difference? Indeed this seems to be a common practice everywhere – when I ask for a receipt shopkeepers in turn often ask  how  much they should write down on it.

When natural disasters hit a few years ago, no one seemed to think anything of it when those collecting relief supplies helped themselves to some before sending them on to the ship. The drivers also took their share. So did the dock workers, the ship’s crew and those who unloaded at the other end. Everybody along the way took their share. You can’t help but wonder how much ever actually ended up being given to the victims. Even on site, victims complained that they were given one small box of food  per family while the military got one box per family member– and most of them didn’t even have their families with them. (What did they do with the extra? They sold it to to shop keepers for cash who then resold it to the people.)

And in my home country where people have long prided themselves on their clean system, people have been vilifying bankers and politicians for graft and corruption for the last three years. A few weeks ago I read very interesting article called “Psychology of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things”  which presentes a case history of a “good” guy who ended up jailed for fraud

How many of us see that what we do is the exact same thing, even though on a much lower monetary scale? When people pilfer from their employer (even just pens, paper, TP, food, whatever) who thinks of themselves as being corrupt? No, no, that’s those other folk over there who have stashed millions or billions in banks somewhere.

What do all these people have in common? They are all experts in justification.

Jane Doe can rip TP off her employer – she rationalizes that they have lots and it’ll save her  a nickel. The military guy figures he’s on hardship duty, he can use the extra cash to send home to the wife and kids.   The truck drivers, dockworkers, ship’s crew after all don’t earn much and since they had to handle all this shouldn’t they be entitled to some too? The same for the mosque and church committes – don’t they deserve some perks for their hard work after all? And the village head feels he should be able to divert a tractor so his son will have a livelihood. And if I can sell slightly smaller “liters” of rice or kerosene or whatever, I can make extra profit. There is no end to mankind’s excuses and justification. We howl and complain when others get away with it, but when we do it we just don’t see it.

I really do think that president is on to something.

Every man’s way is right in his own eyes. (Proverbs 21:2a)


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Filed under cross-cultural, heart of man

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